Stage 15: Foix to Loudenvielle-Le Louron (196km)
LATEST ACTION AS IT HAPPENS (ALL TIMES BST)
1610: The rest of the main contenders for this year's crown are led over the line by Cadel Evans, more than a minute down on Messrs Rasmussen and Contador. If it wasn't already, today has ensured this Tour is between two men now - Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador.
1609: Here they come. Alberto Contador's out front and Michael Rasmussen does not even attempt to out-sprint him, opting to coast over in the Spaniard's wake.
1608: The stragglers from that initial breakaway of 25 are crossing the line, as the crowds at the finish wait for the two stars of this Tour.
1607: Alberto Contador is having one last go at Michael Rasmussen as the road kicks two kilometres from the line. Rasmussen's got an adhesive touch and is going nowhere.
1605: George Hincapie has hit the hammer down the hill to help Alberto Contador eat as much time as possible from everyone but Michael Rasmussen. That will set the top two up for a ding-dong battle on Wednesday after a rest day. Four climbs over 218.5km, the final day in the Pyrenees promises to be a cracker.
1604: Kim Kirchen has had his fourth wind of the last hour or so and overhauls Haimar Zubeldia to take second, with Juan Jose Cobo Acebo in fourth.
Stage 15 result (Loudenvielle-Le Louron, 196km)
- 1. Alexandre Vinokourov 5 hrs 34 mins 28 secs
- 2. Kim Kirchen @ 51 seconds
- 3. Haimar Zubeldia @ same time
1603: A quick glance over his shoulder, nobody in sight, it is time for Alexandre Vinokourov to celebrate. He punches the air before throwing both arms aloft on the line.
1602: One more kilometre to go for Alexandre Vinokourov. He's got it in the bag. What a comeback after yesterday.
1600: Haimar Zubeldia is going for second spot. Alberto Contador, George Hincapie and Michael Rasmussen have dropped Sergiy Ivanov on the flying descent.
1559: Further up the road Alexandre Vinokourov looks good for a fifth stage win in the Tour de France. He has a 50-second advantage over Kim Kirchen, Haimar Zubeldia and Juan Jose Cobo Acebo.
"That was an absolutely epic battle between Contador and Rasmussen. I bet Rasmussen was glad the summit came when it did!"
opplock on 606
1557: It doesn't work. Alberto Contador darts past Michael Rasmussen with another sudden burst of energy. The Dane is hanging in there. George Hincapie and Sergiy Ivanov stick on their wheels as they come past. That means Contador has a team-mate in the shape of the experienced Hincapie.
1556: Michael Rasmussen gets back on Alberto Contador's wheel and the Spaniard has another pop. He can't get rid of him though. The yellow jersey overtakes the man they call the Accountant to mark any more moves.
1555: And again. Electrifying stuff and Alberto Contador is away for the time being.
1554: Alberto Contador goes again and is out to break Michael Rasmussen. He can't yet shake the Dane.
1553: Alberto Contador attacks the yellow jersey group. Michael Rasmussen is the only man with the legs to respond.
1551: Alexandre Vinokourov goes over the top of the Col de Peyresourde. Now for the 12km downhill and a well-earned rest at the finish. Kim Kirchen has found a second wind.
Category-one climb result (Col de Peyresourde, 184.5km)
- 1. Alexandre Vinokourov - 30 points
- 2. Haimar Zubeldia - 26 points
- 3. Kim Kirchen - 22 points
1549: Alexandre Vinokourov is threading his way through a tide of fans on the road as it snakes ever upwards. He is in the final kilometre.
1548: Denis Menchov's bonked. Up at the front Haimar Zubeldia looks to be the man to challenge Alexandre Vinokourov as he pulls away from Juan Jose Cobo Acebo. That said, Vino's opened up a 25-second gap already.
"Vino looks good today, but where was he yesterday? Vino seems to be the next Ullrich, i.e: a huge talent but he's missing the killer instinct."
Escamillo476i on 606
1545: After a flurry of activity up and down the hill things have settled down. Alexandre Vinokourov, sunglasses lodged on his helmet and grimace on his burning red face, is thumping out a fast rhythm. Will it be a winning rhythm?
1542: Alexandre Vinokourov, who launched his first attack of the day about five hours ago, now has daylight on the rest of the field. Haimar Zubeldia and Juan Jose Cobo Acebo. Further back, David Arroyo looks well and truly cooked.
1540: Haimar Zubeldia hits the hammer and ships Kim Kirchen and David Arroyo out the back. Just when the Spaniard sits back thinking the job's done, Alexandre Vinokourov hits the turbo button.
1539: Is this is one climb too many Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez? The man in the polka dot jersey - by default as Michael Rasmussen actually leads - can't handle the pace as Rabobank close down Yaroslav Popovych.
1536: Haimar Zubeldia joins the leading four to make it a leading five. They are five kilometres from the summit of the Col de Peyresourde.
1533: Yaroslav Popovych attacks the yellow jersey group. After going at it full bore yesterday you've got to wonder what he's got left in the tank.
1531: Kim Kirchen and David Arroyo get a shock when Alexandre Vinokourov comes up on the blind side. They grab his wheel. Juan Jose Cobo Acebo is close to joining them, but Haimar Zubeldia and Juan Manuel Garate look to be struggling.
1528: Alexandre Vinokourov's on the charge. He is chasing down the leading duo of Kim Kirchen and David Arroyo. Vino has Juan Jose Cobo Acebo, Haimar Zubeldia and Juan Manuel Garate for company.
1527: Johann Tschopp's had the chop. He can't live with David Arroyo and Kim Kirchen. Further back, Denis Menchov has joined up with the yellow jersey group.
"There are enough riders in the yellow jersey group to attack Rasmussen on the last Cat-1 climb."
cr7torossi on 606
1524: There are 20km left in the day. Between now and then though comes the first category Col de Peyresourde.
1520: What of Andriy Kashechkin? His break didn't come to much and he's now sitting at the back of the yellow jersey group with Astana team-mate Andreas Kloden.
1519: Some big names are in between these groups, including Haimar Zubeldia and Alexandre Vinokourov. Denis Menchov is somewhere in there but it is unclear whether he has taken his foot off the gas in order to drop back and help out his Rabobank team-mates Michael Rasmussen and Michael Boogerd.
1518: All the favourites remain together and crossed the peak six minutes 40 seconds down. Michael Boogerd is setting the tempo.
1517: Kim Kirchen went over the Port de Bales first and is now going like the clappers down the other side with David Arroyo and Johann Tschopp.
Out-of-category climb result (Port de Bales, 159.5km)
- 1. Kim Kirchen - 20 points
- 2. David Arroyo - 18 points
- 3. Johann Tschopp - 16 points
1516: What do you know? Just as it gets interesting there's a power cut at the BBC! A Tom Boonen sprint later to somewhere that has electricity and we're back up and running. Apologies for the delay when things were getting tasty.
1456: Kim Kirchen, who is 14th overall in the race, catches leader Johann Tschopp. They are six minutes 35 seconds ahead of the big boys in the yellow jersey group.
1454: This is all too much for Fred Rodriguez. The Predictor man, a team-mate of Cadel Evans, has had enough and quits the race.
1453: Michael Boogerd's efforts to close down the gap to Andriy Kashechkin, who is 20 seconds in front, account for Mikel Astarloza, who is soon to be 20 seconds behind and more.
1450: Inigo Landaluze is looking frisky and wants to lead the chase to Johann Tschopp at the head of the field. Kim Kirchen too. Swiss rider Tschopp has a 30-second advantage over Landaluze and his cohorts.
1447: Michael Boogerd is pumping out a lively tempo to help team leader Michael Rasmussen at the front of the peloton and it is too much for some. Oscar Pereiro is the first big name to mosey off the back. Christophe Moreau's nightmare week continues and he's a goner too.
1445: Johann Tschopp goes it alone at the head of the field. The big boys of David Arroyo, Denis Menchov and Alexandre Vinokourov stick together.
1443: Another Astana man, Andreas Kloden, is sitting in Michael Rasmussen's wheel at the front of the peloton waiting on the race leader's reaction to Andriy Kashechkin's attack. Kashechkin is six minutes 58 seconds off the yellow jersey in seventh spot.
1440: Is this Astana's day? Andriy Kashechkin has a pop off the front of the peloton.
1437: Alexandre Vinokourov, Ruben Perez, Juan Jose Cobo Acebo have linked up with the leading five to make it eight. Sergiy Ivanov helped his Astana boss Vino to bridge the gap but then blows again. He is almost at a standstill weaving towards the verge and a big drop off the mountain.
"Ivanov's doing a passable impersonation of me/hundreds of other sportif riders on the Port de Bales there."
Alex on 606
1434: The Port de Bales is beginning to bite and that Alexandre Vinokourov group splits.
1433: Sergiy Ivanov's toast. The Astana man's looking like he's cycling through honey and the front five fire off into the distance. Russian rider Denis Menchov is giving it a dig.
1430: The leaders are on one of the calf-killing parts of the Port de Bales - lower part of the leg as opposed to a shrine to sacrificing small cattle. They remain as one and are 50 seconds up on Alexandre Vinokourov and co.
1429: A few of the Rabobank boys have been shelled out of the back of the peloton after turns on the front for Michael Rasmussen.
1427: Here comes Denis Menchov. That means he is the top rider in the leading group of six at 18th in general classification, but his job is to keep an eye on things for Michael Rasmussen.
1422: David Arroyo is doing a lot of the work at the front of the group of five. He is the best-placed rider overall at 19th, 19 minutes and 19 seconds off Michael Rasmussen. The Dane's Rabobank lieutenant Denis Menchov is looking to join the leaders.
1416: The leading five riders start the climb of Port de Bales and have opened up a 45-second advantage over those 20 men with whom they have spent the last 110km.
1411: Action up at the front where five riders have upped the tempo and gone clear. The five in question? David Arroyo, Sergiy Ivanov, Bernhard Kohl, Inigo Landaluze and Johann Tschopp.
"Is the peloton leaving it too late? They are not bringing down the advantage at all. This is going to be a very interesting stage."
cr7torossi on 606
"Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador must put their little finish line tete-a-tete behind them and work together. Rasmussen must see that the Discovery team has more strength in depth than Rabobank. If he can use Discovery to help fend off Astana and Cadel Evans, why not? With a rest day tomorrow, I expect Rasmussen and Contador to dominate today."
enjoy_the_ride on 606
"Today will be the defining stage of the Tour. This indeed is the stage of transition. It is the day for Andreas Kloden or Carlos Sastre, particularly Kloden."
futuresports on 606
"It all feels a bit cagey at the moment, as if it's a bit of a blinking contest. I was expecting someone to blink on that last climb."
Alex on 606
1357: Right then, Port de Bales here we come. It is the only out-of-category climb of the day and it is an absolute brute at 19km long with an average gradient of 6.2%. It peaks at 10% in two sections.
1355: The leaders go through the sprint at Marignac and Daniele Bennati takes the sprinkling of spoils on offer again.
Intermediate sprint result (Marignac, 127km)
- 1. Daniele Bennati - six points/ six seconds
- 2. Kurt-Asle Arvesen - four points/four seconds
- 3. Benoit Vaugrenard - two points/two seconds
1348: The Rabobank boys lead the peloton over the Col de Mente. They are eight minutes 30 seconds down. They lost a minute on the climb.
1345: With a kilometre to go to the top, local hero Alexandre Botcharov is put back in the box of the peloton. Moment of glory over.
1343: Alexandre Botcharov, the littlest fella in the race, lives around these parts and is allowed to jump off the front of the peloton for a stretch. He is milking this moment to the max. Waving to all and sundry, whether they know who the hell he is or not.
1339: Here's a bit of life. Quick-Step's Juan Manuel Garate sprints for the points.
Category-one climb result (Col de Monte, 114km)
- 1. Juan Manuel Garate - 15 points
- 2. Laurent Lefevre - 13 points
- 3. Patrice Halgand - 11 points
1336: It is a relatively laboured ascent for all concerned. Standard stuff. The Port de Bales is where it will all kick off. That starts 25 km after this climb finishes.
1331: The peloton pass the five kilometres to go mark. The gap has grown to eight minutes five seconds.
1323: Five kilometres to the top for the leading 25. David Arroyo is back with them after that slipped chain. Carl's memories of this climb have ridden it in the D'Etape du Tour? "The early morning banter between riders was quickly replaced by silence on the Col de Mente.".
1316: No rest today. Off the Col de Portet d'Aspet and now they are on the first category Col de Mente. It runs for seven kilometres at an average gradient of 8.1%. Rabobank are still doing all the work in the peloton.
1311: The peloton breasts the Col de Portet d'Aspet seven minutes 50 seconds down.
1310: Sergiy Ivanov starts the climb of Col de Mente. He turns round and is stunned to see that he's on his own. The Astana man set such a speed he looks to be worried that he took a wrong turn. The others will be coming round the mountain when they come.
1307: David Arroyo's chain comes off and he loses contact with the group for the time being.
1306: The leading group charge down the Col de Portet d'Aspet past the monument to Fabio Casartelli, the 1992 Olympic road race champion. The Italian died as a result of the injuries he suffered in a crash on the descent in 1995. The concrete blocks on the edge of the road, which is what Casartelli hit, are a grim reminder of a dark day in the race's history.
1303: Bouygues Telecom's Laurent Lefevre sprints to take the points over the Col de Portet d'Aspet.
Category-two climb result (Col de Portet d'Aspet, 98.5km)
- 1. Laurent Lefevre - 10 points
- 2. Patrice Halgand - nine points
- 3. Juan Manuel Garate - eight points
1259: One kilometre to go for the leaders on this climb. They are nine minutes 25 seconds to the good on the peloton.
1257: That's the halfway mark of the day in terms of distance. The next half is the hard half. They are a kilometre or so from the top of the climb. Just three more climbs to go after that.
1245: The gap isn't levelling off. It is approaching nine minutes as the Col de Portet d'Aspet looms. It is "hard but not ruinous" according to Alex, who rode the stage as part of L'Etape du Tour. The Col de Mente follows straight away and was where "the suffering started to rise".
"Up to this point the pros don't seem to be going much faster than I was last week, looks to be rolling along nicely. This counts as an epic win for me."
Alex on 606
1236: No mounjetado or azinat in these parts so the jacket potato is filled with tuna. The leaders have pushed out their advantage to more than eight minutes, but the gap seems to be levelling off.
1217: After Saint-Girons comes lunch and the climb of the Col de Portet d'Aspet. Talking of Saint-Girons and lunch, the town's website gives the "simple but satisfying local cuisine" some heat. Anyone for mounjetado, azinat or millas? Veggies will have to queue up for millas and leave the meat eaters to gnaw on mounjetado and azinat.
1211: The gap on the road is touching seven minutes. Rabobank are on the front of the peloton, but seem content to take it relatively easy with four more climbs to come.
1209: Lampre's Daniele Bennati shows his hand early, jumps off the front and takes the points on offer for the sprint in Saint-Girons, the lowest point of the day.
Intermediate sprint result (Saint-Girons, 68km)
- 1. Daniele Bennati - six points/ six seconds
- 2. Sergiy Ivanov - four points/four seconds
- 3. Bernhard Kohl - two points/two seconds
1203: A bit more detail on those riders best-placed in the escape. Euskaltel's Haimar Zubeldia is best placed in 12th at 12 minutes 15 seconds back. Then come Kim Kirchen (14th, 13 mins 16 secs), Michael Rasmussen's team-mate Denis Menchov (18th, 18 mins 57 secs) and David Arroyo has all the 19s (19th, 19 mins 19 secs).
1200: The clock strikes midday and the gap between the leaders and the peloton is six minutes exactly.
1154: There are 16 different teams in the lead group. Astana and Euskaltel boast the best showing with three riders each. Agritubel, Barloworld, Cofidis, Gerolsteiner and Predictor are not represented.
1150: The two escapees have been caught and the day is finally beginning to take a slightly more manageable shape. There are now 25 leaders out front. Four of them - David Arroyo, Kim Kirchen, Denis Menchov and Haimar Zubeldia - are in the top 20 overall. Other big names include George Hincapie and Alexandre Vinokourov.
1142: Bernhard Kohl and Johann Tschopp are now out in front alone. The pair have 25 seconds on that group they were in and almost four minutes on the peloton.
1135: Christophe Le Mevel has stuffed his collarbone and abandons. Further down the course, and in far less dramatic fashion, another Frenchman calls it quits. Cyril Dessel pulls over to the side of the road.
1133: Whoops! Christophe Le Mevel crashes on the descent. He goes down in the middle of the road on a curve and takes Jorge Azanza with him. Azanza is back up and riding after going over Le Mevel, but the Frenchman is not so lucky. Like a game of Frogger, he inches his way across the road - avoiding oncoming bikes, motorbikes and cars - before crumpling in an agonising heap
1131: In all this to-ing and fro-ing and the front of the stage Iban Mayo has dropped back. So, the leading 11 in full are David Arroyo, Manuel Beltran, Juan Jose Cobo Acebo, John Gadret, Juan Manuel Garate, Stephane Goubert, Bernhard Kohl, Denis Menchov, Johann Tschopp, Gorka Verdugo and Alexandre Vinokourov.
1124: The gap between the leaders and the peloton is only in the 20-second region as they wind down the other side of the Col de Port. This is going to be the easy part of the day with 50km or so before the climb to the Col de Portet d'Aspet looms.
1119: Juan Manuel Garate leads our leaders over the Col de Port.
Category-two climb result (Col de Port, 27.5km)
- 1. Juan Manuel Garate - 10 points
- 2. Johann Tschopp - nine points
- 3. Gorka Verdugo - eight points
1116: Gorka Verdugo is caught as the road switches back. The leading group now numbers 12. The leading rider overall is Iban Mayo, who started the day 16th. Alexandre Vinokourov has bridged the gap and is with them.
1113: Alexandre Vinokourov launches a second attack out of the peloton and creates a second intermediary group of riders on the climb to the Col de Port.
"Rasmussen is going to find out what it means to be in yellow today. The question will be, do any of the other top 10 help, to safeguard position, or do they let Rasmussen do it all, before trying to break him later?"
JCsRedArmy on 606
1111: Between Gorka Verdugo and the peloton there is a growing group of handy riders. No great gaps, but enough going on all around him to get Michael Rasmussen twitchy. Alberto Contador's team-mate George Hincapie races up the road to keep a check on what's going on.
1105: Alexandre Vinokourov looks knackered. Gorka Verdugo looks sprightly. To prove his point the Euskaltel rider bumps up the pace and goes it alone.
1100: Never mind the jockeying for position at the front. At the back a host of riders are already setting themselves up for a hard day's work as they fall off the pace. Britain's Geraint Thomas is in their number.
1058: And then there were two. Alexandre Vinokourov and Gorka Verdugo hit the accelerator. Denis Menchov was clearly marshalling Oscar Pereiro, who is 11th overall.
1056: That leaves Alexandre Vinokourov, Oscar Pereiro, Gorka Verdugo and Denis Menchov in the lead. Menchov, a Rabobank team-mate of race leader Michael Rasmussen is policing them.
1055: This lot surely won't be allowed to get away, and judging by the way they're looking over their collective shoulder they don't fancy their chances either. Alejandro Valverde and Christophe Moreau drop back.
1053: Things are settling down at the front... and kicking off. Alejandro Valverde is in the lead group of six. The Spaniard is ninth overall. Christophe Moreau and Alexandre Vinokourov are also up there. Interesting.
1050: For those of you in the office this morning wanting to catch up on the weekend's Tour action have a gander here...
1045: Repeated attacks from riders who fancy their chances, but as yet they can't shake off the peloton. We'll take stock of the standings once they settle down a bit.
1042: The field floods through Tarascon-sur-Ariege, which is where the road turns sharply west. The road is now running as parallel as you can in these parts to the border with Spain.
1034: The first attack of the day is on already. Nothing unexpected there and no big names up front. The riders are already strung out, snaking along the twisty, turny route south from Foix.
1030: It is just 27.5km to the first climb at the Col de Port. For an account of all the perils and pitfalls awaiting the riders today, check out the verdicts from Alex and Carl on 606. The pair rode the route earlier this summer.
1028: The riders have gone through the neutral zone from pretty-as-a-picture Foix and the flag comes down on racing proper.
1025: We are down to 163 riders after Francaise des Jeux rider Phillipe Gilbert and Liquigas man Filippo Pozzato threw in the towel overnight.
1021: But the fact that there is no mountain-top finish today plays into the hands of any potential escapees who fancy a long, lonely day out in front in the hope of stage glory.
1018: The climbing specifics. First up is the Col de Port (category two, 1,249m), a bit of a break before the Col de Portet d'Aspet (cat 2, 1,069m) and Col de Mente (cat 1, 1,349m) and then the big finish with the Port de Bales (out of cat, 1,755m) and the Col de Peyresourde (cat 1, 1,569m).
1016: Points classification leader Tom Boonen gives a little, cheery wave to the crowds. The big Belgian won't be looking so happy in a few hours when the road starts to bite.
1015: The Tour de France rolls out on another gruelling day in the Pyrenees and the profile of the stage resembles a cardiogram. The bare facts? Five climbs, one of which is out-of-category, and 196km. It's a back breaker.